The Tango of Problem Solving, Marketing & Advertising News, ET BrandEquity

Strategygram: the tango of problem solving

ET brings the twenty-second part of Strategygrams weekly series.

This week’s Strategygram titled “The Tango of Problem Solving” is part of a series created by Sattar Khan, a branding consultant. Each Strategygram condenses a strategic thought into a single image. The collectible series is a visual guide to strategic thinking and provides handy image prompts for your branding workouts.

When we are called upon to solve a problem, we call on our expertise honed over the years through experience, study, observation, discussion and reflection. What happens? Our mind’s pattern recognition repertoire activates automatically, we notice the similarity between the features of this problem and so many others we have solved –this is like this– and we begin to develop solutions.

Up to a point, this is all for the best. There is a role for expert domain knowledge – no one wants to visit anyone but a dentist to treat a root canal problem.

And analogical thinking also has wonderful value. In fact, some cognitive scientists like Douglas Hofstadter suggest that everything thought is analogical.

Analog thinking is part of our daily life, for example when we use metaphors or proverbs. Hofstadter calls proverbs “situation labels”; everyone understands what we mean when we say: “When the cat is not there, the mice are playing!” or “It’s as if the pot called the black kettle!”

When it comes to solving problems, analog thinking uncovers the solutions – we know, for example, that George de Mestral invented the hook-and-loop fastener, called Velcro, after noticing burrs stuck to the fur of his dog – but the bottleneck is our functional fixity, which forces us to apprehend objects from the point of view of what they are supposed do rather than what they box do.

“When we overcome functional fixity,” explains psychologist Eric Haseltine, “a rock serves as a hammer, a pencil becomes a weapon, a cardboard box becomes a table, and an acetylene torch lights up a room. Wherever you find a big bang innovation, chances are you’ll see an example of someone overcoming functional fixity.

Haseltine notes that functional fixity produces “blind spots outside expectation: our brains see what they expect to see and don’t see what they don’t expect to see. But our brain also blinds us to the opportunities of the big bang by making us see what we want to see and not see what we don’t want to see.”

So how to escape functional fixity and welcome analogies from other domains?

We define our problem in a way that, at first glance, seems paradoxical: our language is specific but our conceptual goal is broad; we focus on the essential but missing dimension in our desired solution, because then we can spot the similarities that we would normally overlook.

Let’s say when you travel you want to pack dumbbells to exercise in the privacy of your hotel room. Dumbbells are heavy and bulky to carry, which makes portability easy the dimension you use to find similar items.

You widen your mental net and you come across bed mattresses. Exercise weights and bed mattresses are distant categories, but they have the same relationship structure: they are difficult to transport. Nevertheless, inflatable mattresses are easily transportable. Maybe our solution is inflatable dumbbells?

“These devices are not particularly similar in appearance, specific functions, or operation: an inflatable mattress is large, water weights are small; mattresses are for sleeping, while weights are for lifting; an inflatable mattress is filled with an air pump, water weights are filled with a faucet,” five researchers from Texas explain in their paper titled “Supporting Innovation Through Analogic Reasoning.”

“Adapting solutions is not in itself a trivial process”, say the five researchers. “For example, to adapt the inflatable mattress solution to the weights of water, the weight must be re-conceptualized as “a container that can be deflated”; then, rather than filling the weights with air, they should be filled with something readily available and heavy, and so water is substituted for air. The process of adapting a solution can itself be accomplished by relying on other analogies.

It is clear that it is useful to use analogies, but is it possible that the search for what is similar in our problem with others prevents us from perceiving what is unique in our problem? A fundamental tenet of psychology is that if you look for similarities you will find them, just as you will find differences if you look for them. The important thing, of course, is to know what matters more in your situation: the similarities or the differences.

You will remember the advice that Gustave Flaubert, a first-rate observer, a person who, by his own admission, would spend weeks looking for the right word to clearly define his observation – gives Guy de Maupassant, in 1870: “There is a part of everything that is unexplored, because we are used to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing contains something unknown.

Flaubert, the grand old master, went on to advise the budding superstar, Maupassant: “Whatever thing you want to say, there is only one word to express it, only one verb to put it in movement, but an adjective to qualify it; you have to search until you find that noun, that verb, that adjective… When you come across a grocer sitting on his doorstep, a porter smoking a pipe, or a cab driver, show me that grocer and that porter… in such a way that I can never confuse them with any other grocer or porter, and by one word let me understand how the carriage horse differs from fifty others in front or behind it.

This perception of particularity, singularity, anomaly is essential to insight.

Of course, we need both: our intuitionwhich operates on the recognition of patterns of similarity and analogy, and our Overviewwhich works on detecting patterns created by anomalies and uniqueness.

In effective problem solving, it is the fascinating dance of the partner – the rhythm of movement, the back and forth in direction and pursuit, the abrupt changes in position – as we witness the tango between intuition and insight.

Check out the top twenty Strategygrams: “Speed ​​Kills”, “Half Bridges Don’t Work”, “No Contest”, “The Silent Clue”, “Who’s For Lunch?” ‘, ‘Competition Is A Monster’, ‘The Distinctive Sells The Difference’, ‘Strategy as History’, ‘Timing Beats Speed’, ‘Conquering Fort Customer’, ‘How Are You Different?’, ‘The Villain and The Hero Inside ‘, ‘Galileo’s Discovery’, ‘The Strategic Logic Chain’, ‘The Brand Experience Trio’, ‘Deer in the Headlights’, ‘Do the maths’, ‘An insight is like a tram car’, ‘The jump of insights and ideas’, ‘The Three Monkeys of Strategy’ and ‘The breakthrough is in the question’.

Sattar Khan can be contacted at [email protected]

Marilyn J. Hernandez